Woodlands View Education Centre started life way back in 1982 as part of the Amateur Astronomy Centre (AAC) in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. 

The AAC was the brainchild of Peter Drew and Linda Simonian. These two space enthusiasts wanted to build a centre that would be the biggest amateur astronomy resource in the UK. High on the windswept moors between Bacup and Todmorden, they found the ideal location with dark skies, wide horizons and plenty of potential. The roughly 12-acre site was just that - rough. It was located on the site of a former clay pipe factory - Temperley’s, which had been demolished in 1980. Much of the factory had just been flattened, covered thinly in some soil and left. The first major job after moving onsite, involved clearing the site of smashed pipes, stone, brick and rubble.

 

Temperley's Pipe Works 

Temperley’s pipe works factory before it was demolished.

 Temperley's Pipe Works

 

Pipes and factory rubble are still being dug out of the ground. Photo courtesy of Mr John G Keegan

 

Rubble Today

Some of the pipes and rubble still visible at Woodlands View today.

 

Then came the massive task of promoting the project to the world.  This involved building membership, holding events and raising funds to build the observatory and lecture hall.  At its peak the AAC had nearly 2000 members from across the UK and even a number from abroad. Members were kept in touch with the project via newsletter and they were always welcome to drop in and lend a hand. A hardy group of members with a range of skills often used to give up their free time to help with the manual labour on site or offer their skills at writing articles for the newsletter.

 

Regular events known as ‘Star Parties’ were held for members where they could meet for lectures on all aspects of astronomy, get advice from a number of experts and trade stories of stars and telescopes. More light-hearted activities also took place such as fancy dress, caption competitions, raffles, quizzes and astro- sales. Eventually enough funds were raised for building work to begin on the lecture hall and observatory with the foundations being laid in the mid 1980s and the building being finished in 1990, in time for the NAW (National Astronomy Week) committee meeting, the first time that the committee had met outside London. 

 

The Basic Shell

The basic shell of the building.

 

From the start the AAC always had twin aims:

 

1)   To have the biggest privately owned amateur telescope available for members, which would allow them to make detailed observations of the Northern sky.

2)    To educate and entertain members of the public in the wonders of astronomy and the cosmos.

 

By 1995, the AAC was in a position to progress the twin aims further.  The Astronomy Centre, now under the management of Peter Drew, was, and is still, dedicated to the furtherance of amateur astronomy and continues to make available instrumentation of a quality and size that amateurs would not normally have available to them. 

 

The education side, under the management of Linda Simonian and John Keegan, became Planet:Earth.  Linda ran courses, exhibitions and lectures for interested people of all ages and abilities. She was the nationwide co-ordinator of National Astronomy Week in 1990, working closely with eminent astronomers such as Heather Cooper and then Astronomer Royal, Sir Francis Graham- Smith. For NAW 1997 Planet:Earth became the location of the Sun as part of a model Solar System that spanned England from Todmorden, Yorkshire to Folkestone, Kent.  Other notable achievements included a visit from two Russian Cosmonauts; Colonel Volkov and Director Martynov in 1999.

 

In addition, Linda developed a very successful GCSE Astronomy correspondence course.  A 15-year-old Nettie took the course in 1995 (achieving a modest grade A).   After completing a weeks work experience at Planet:Earth, Nettie fell in love with the whole project. Becoming great friends with Linda, Nettie continued to work with the project, returning as often as possible during school holidays, gaining valuable experience at barrowing, digging, and brew making.  

 

The name ‘Woodlands View’ was given to the lecture hall in 2005 as the building looked across the valley onto the newly planted Midgelden Wood (more on this later).

 

Linda and her husband John successfully ran Planet:Earth for 11 years until Linda’s untimely death in 2006.  The correspondence courses went to Garry Mayes, a long term volunteer at Planet:Earth.  Garry runs the Mobile Stars Planetarium and now is proprietor of Planet Earth Education. Woodlands View was then sold, allowing Nettie's childhood dream to start to come true. The adventure is just beginning…